Disaffection and Patriotism


Many governments think that if a citizen dissents – meaning if he or she displays disagreement with some policies of the government – then, he or she is an anti-national, a person who is not to be regarded as a true patriot. He or she needs to be monitored for potential anti-government activities.

Nothing is further from the truth.

A government of the day does not have the right to designate an individual who disagrees with its policies as someone against the country itself. That is a totally ridiculous assertion of a non-fact. Every individual has an absolute right, at least in a democracy, to have his or her own opinion or views on a specific subject or government policy, and also to express the same. Governments do get agitated when the individual concerned is a thinker of repute, a politician of some standing, or an influential celebrity with a big following. And they get angry if such individuals use colourful adjectives or choice epithets to describe their opinions or views.

Nevertheless, governments who are mature enough to take in criticisms and digest the same, will realize that their own standing improves in the eyes of common citizens, who would develop serious concerns if the response of their government is not appropriate. Governments can always reserve the right to a suitable response, but cannot colour their response or action with a foregone judgement against public interest.There will always be a significant, and sometimes influential, section of the society which is going to disagree – that does not make them anti-national in any manner. This is normal human behaviour, especially in societies where there are established democratic institutions. Sometimes, I tend to wonder at the courage of such individuals who ignore potential retributions for their views.

The very common people, or the proletariat as we used to call them in the past, would not dare to risk their rice bowl by holding or expressing views antagonistic to government policies. They just want to have a smooth life, and worry about their own welfare, their childrens’ future, and their retirement. More than 99% of a society is like that, and there is nothing wrong with that kind of peaceful life. Why rock the boat?

Dissenters are usually people who do not personally worry about themselves in the first place. I am talking about peaceful dissenters, and not revolutionaries here. They have a view of their society, their country and the world, which is vastly different from their own government’s views. A great example is the current protests going on for the tenth week in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong protesters demonstrate their dissension in a particularly strong and vocal manner, which is surely not compatible with the rest of that money-making society or that of their own administrative government, which reports into the Mainland China government. It is anybody’s guess as to where or when those protests will end up, and sometimes it bothers me when I imagine military boots on Hong Kong roads.

Another emerging example is the citizen protests in Moscow against President Putin and his government’s aggressive policies against opposition politicians. Russia is not a true democracy, but it is well on its way towards one from a long period of Communist Dictatorship. Hence it will be interesting to see how that people protest is being handled by the Russian government. May not end well, in my opinion, especially if the Russian government discovers that foreign elements are aiding the protests.

The Indian government is characterizing dissenters as anti-nationalists. My hope is that laws to this effect will undergo rapid change, as the Indian society is inherently democratic, vocal and expressive. The government will soon see its folly in trying to control “views” of any kind from being expressed. I am not able to understand why a government which succeeded wildly at the ballot box in May 2019 would do things not compatible with democratic expression. I hope that the Indian government will change its policies for the better as it digests its victory, the overall popular acceptance of its governance, its image on the world stage, and its permanent tagline as the biggest democracy in the world.

There should be nothing wrong with anyone expressing his or her views, in spoken or written form, and communicating a different line of thinking. The world has made progress at every step because of dissension and disaffection. If everyone toes the line of the government, the country will not benefit. Every dissenting citizen is actually a committed patriot, and the government should see him or her as such. It is critical to tap opposing views which can help the country to progress further.

In a nutshell, I am happy to stay in the midst of dissenters and learn from their differing views.

Have a great week ahead folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

11th August 2019

The Stark Stupidity of a Puerile Embrace


Yes, it was a stupid and puerile embrace. I am referring here to the visit of Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, to the White House to meet up with Donald Trump, President of the U.S.

As usual, there are always friends of Pakistan in any U.S. Administration, who automatically disdain India. But Pakistan lost most of its friends and the huge annual aid from the U.S. last year, as Trump felt they were not doing enough to eliminate terrorism (absolutely true) and assisting the U.S. to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. So came Lindsay Graham, the obnoxious Senator friend of Trump, who visited Pakistan recently and came to the strong conclusion (he is wrong here!) that Imran Khan is a guy that the U.S. can rely on to deliver the goods. He therefore strongly influenced Trump on Pakistan and helped Imran Khan to secure the visit to the White House. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo also believes that Pakistan can and will help the U.S. on the critical issues plaguing Afghanistan.

Trump can easily be deceived by appearances and is extremely weak when it comes to foreign policy, as we have repeatedly seen. Hence he was again taken for a solid ride by the suave Imran Khan who made false commitments on terrorism and also led Trump down the garden path on his conflict with India with reference to the Kashmir matter. Khan pushed Trump to persuade India to come to the negotiating table with Trump as the mediator between the two parties. This heightened Trump’s ego (obviously).

Trump fell for the ruse and then imagined something which was unthinkable: he imagined that Mr Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has in fact sought his help to diffuse the Kashmir crisis when they two met at a recent G20 Summit in Japan. Not only did he imagine, his crooked mind thought it was the best opportunity to coax India for negotiations with Pakistan: this is no different from his North Korea adventure, keeping South Korea and Japan on the tenterhooks, and his half-baked Palestinian settlement talks with Israel which could not happen and the whole thing went bad recently.

Of course, the Indian reaction was swift and pointed. India rejected Trump’s “imagination” of Modi’s request to assist in Kashmir talks with Pakistan strongly – it reiterated its l0ng-standing position on exclusive bilateral-only talks with Pakistan and absolutely no foreign intervention or mediation. India is a big country and does not have to fall at the feet of Trump every time he imagines something contrary to truth, though it recently succumbed to U.S. pressures on the Iran sanctions.

Khan had to leave empty-handed on the India negotiations. It has been more than 3.5 years since both parties talked. The worry now is that Khan might come under severe pressure from Pakistan’s ultimate authority – its Army and its generals (unlike in India) to indulge in yet another military misadventure against India which would then lead to an inevitable war as Mr Modi is a no-nonsense man when it comes to such matters – not like the slow-moving bureaucratic behemoth of the erstwhile Congress government leadership.

In a nutshell, the stupidity of this embrace between Trump and Khan is yet another moronic exercise in an overt act of illogic not susceptible to the sensibilities of a calculated and well-orchestrated foreign policy. After Trump became President of the U.S. in January 2017, one big casualty has been his big de-emphasis on foreign policy execution in the usual, well-oiled “diplomatic” way. Trump personalised foreign policy with his charisma (or lack of it), and his adhocism. There is a total disarray in American foreign policy establishment with such an arbitrary exercise of powers against allies and foes alike.

The U.S. Administration acted quickly to contain the damage in the relationship with India – Trump’s utterances on Modi’s request to mediate in the Kashmir issue became a hot potato in Indian political scene, not surprisingly at all. Though it is cooling down, doubts are lingering. India is firmly putting its feet down – stamping it down on the face of Imran Khan.

Trump has a long way to go in policy-making. His presumption that his “larger-than-life” personality would be the solution for all of the world’s intractable problems is sorely misplaced. No one person would be able to bring his stamp on all critical matters of the world, even if he or she is the President of the U.S. At the end of the day, threats also do not work – threats have become a hallmark of the Trump Presidency. He has acted in a fickle-minded manner in all state matters and as a total moron in domestic politics in the U.S. as we are witnessing day in and day out – it always feels like a Trump reality show every day with his non-stop tirade of tweets!

And, Imran Khan should understand that dealing with India is not a cricket game. It is not a game at all. It is serious matter which requires compromise and peace overtures of a different kind. It is unlikely that Modi will ever pick up the phone and speak to Khan as a result of any kind of pressure exerted by Trump – in the aftermath of the stupid comments by Trump, the possibility of peace talks has worsened even further.

Have a wonderful weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

27th July 2019

The Hong Kong Fiasco


Hong Kong is a truly global city – sometimes, I tend to think that it is even more global and open than Singapore. There is no other city in the world which comes close to Hong Kong if you factor in all key parameters which define a global city, except for one very major thing: cost of living. I will not agree that Singapore is the most expensive city in all of Asia Pacific – it is Hong Kong, very closely followed by Tokyo, then comes Singapore.

In economic dynamism, the resolute hard working attitude of its people, financial strengths of its banking institutions, and several other key parameters, Hong Kong has remained No. 1 in Asia Pacific, though Singapore has tried and succeeded in dislodging it from the coveted perch more often than not. Singapore studied Hong Kong for a long time before adopting some of its success formulas, so it is not surprising that both cities appear to be “similar” in many ways.

Now, let me come to the topic of this blog post!

The world witnessed how a global city can be brought to its knees during this past week, when student agitators and the general public (more than a million people) protested against the rash introduction of an extradition bill, which would have allowed the Hong Kong government to extradite its citizens (and other residents) to Mainland China. I totally agree that the HK government could have been more prudent, more cautious, and more measured in the way it approached this extremely sensitive matter of extradition to China. It also did not do a proper Public Relations job, communicating the intricacies of the bill to the general public. There is only one reason for all of this fiasco: the blame points to Carrie Lam, the obstinate Chief Executive of the Hong Kong government (yes, they have a CEO!). She did a very bad job, and was forced to tender a weak apology to the people which further inflamed the public, because she only suspended the introduction of the bill (meaning it is not fully withdrawn from the Legislature) and did not show any inclination to resign.

As a third party not involved in any of this, one can only do some rational thinking (like what most of the media analysts were doing anyway). Hong Kong has extradition agreements with many countries, including the U.S. It is totally funny that Hong Kong is actually an integral part of China, but its people would not permit such an agreement with their own “motherland”. This signifies a total mistrust that the Hong Kong people have on the Mainland China government and its system of rendering judicial decisions. Hong Kongers of course, trust their well embedded British-style system of justice which has been in place for over a hundred years.

It looks absolutely strange to me, however. Hong Kong can never separate from the Mainland, and yet wishes to go against the Mainland government and judicial system (which are not going to change anyway). I don’t believe that the Mainland government wanted this headache when it had to deal with more pressing trade issues. The key issue is that Carrie Lam tried to push the legislation through when it was not even a key demand of the China federal government – she just wanted to stay in their good books forever, I guess.

So, the fault lies at the doorsteps of the Hong Kong government. There should be no doubt about it. The right thing to do is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill totally and persuade the attorney general (or whatever equivalent they have in Hong Kong) to release the people arrested. That will assuage the feelings of the people who felt victimised by the police force. Her resignation may not be required, but if she makes one more misstep she will be gone for sure.

Further, the student activists need to realise that China is always going to be their “mother”, irrespective of whatever else happens. The honeymoon period is long since over, though the official integration date lies far into the future in 2047, when the 50-year period after the British handover comes to pause. China can do anything even in the interim.

Why fight? Show your steely determination. But, call everyone to the table for a negotiation. Violence is never an option for both sides, especially so in such a hugely important financial centre. It will knock Hong Kong from its stable perch, and create big doubts in the minds of global corporations and financial institutions. Further, the preferential treatment that the U.S. and the European Union accord to Hong Kong on trade and finance related matters will come under scrutiny. That will also happen if Mainland China is seen as intruding into the freedoms of operation in Hong Kong, so it has to watch out as well. All these factors become very critical in the light of serious trade conflict that is in progress currently between China and the U.S.

So, in conclusion, Carrie Lam has to withdraw the legislation and curb her obstinacy from playing again and damaging Hong Kong; the students and the general public have to go back to their vocations and not continue to disturb peace on the island. China was in any case, not doing anything in this matter, it was not demanding anything to be done. The problem is entirely conceived by Carrie Lam.

I hope Hong Kong will be back on its feet by Monday and proceed to do trade and finance in the usual manner which the entire world has always appreciated. All the best to Hong Kong and its most energetic and capable citizens!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd June 2019

New Emerging Global Alignments


The world was ordered in a specific way for the past over seven decades.

The Western Alliance has dominated the world order all these years with its commitment towards freedom and democracy, international institutions, peace and capitalistic form of economic growth.

The Eastern or Russia-dominated Alliance generally failed in its mission of establishing Communism as a preferred form of government, and collapsed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also considered as an economic failure with state-dominated economic paradigms which relied on curtailing individual freedoms and free enterprise. The only difference was that the countries in this alliance belonged to the same international institutions and were forced to respect their rules and regulations.

The West and the East never met in a happy manner all this while with few exceptions – one comes to mind: the collaboration on the International Space Station, launched by Russia in 1998, and still operating with multinational participation.

Now, in 2019, things are changing. The Western Alliance has become shaky in itself, due to reasons now well understood by the entire world: President Donald Trump and Brexit. There are fissures appearing all over this successful alliance, due to leadership differences and approaches. Western Europe is caught in a bind, as the iron-clad support that they had been enjoying from the U.S. all these years suddenly appear to be not so firm. The U.K. is destined to leave the European Union (EU) very soon. Russia has been flexing its muscles with the inscrutable President Putin running the show on the Eastern flank of Western Europe. Turkey (a NATO member) is threatening to collaborate more closely with Russia than with the U.S. with the induction of sophisticated S-400 missile systems and is likely to be ejected from the F-35 fighter plane program by the U.S. as a result. And so on and so forth……….you just need to keep abreast of the news and you will know what I am talking about.

Whereas the “Eastern” Alliance is suddenly on the resurgence, though not with the same set of old USSR partner countries, but with the potent combination of two Super Powers – Russia and China. At the St Petersburg economic forum earlier this week, the bonhomie between President Putin and President Xi Jinping was on show for everyone to see. If and when they combine militarily and economically, they could easily challenge the mightiness of the U.S. all around the world. We already see them cooperating in Venezuela keeping Mr Nicolas Maduro in power, who is detested by the U.S. There is no question about the combined might of Russia and China – both well-established nuclear and missile powers with UN Security Council vetoes on hand. It is inevitable that bilateral trade between the two countries will now increase dramatically, with one variation: the balance of trade will be in favour of Russia!

Other countries will now be left in the lurch as this emerging global alliance will demand commitment to their cause. Most Asian countries play both ways – they welcome U.S. investment and military policing in the oceans around them, while also embracing China which is well on its way to becoming the world’s biggest economy by GDP in the next few years. Big claims by China on the ownership of the South China Sea has upset many Asian nations, but they can hardly do anything against China. The African countries will follow China in general, as it has been extending huge loans for their development.

The emergence of China on the world stage as an economic and military super power will now have the full support of Russia, another super power though on a weakened platform. Most countries will do business with both alliances for military procurement, and keep their silence on contentious issues which could cloud bilateral relations.

So, for the next decade or so, there will be global challenges on almost all issues which dominate the world’s attention, and a fight between the two alliances. The unfortunate thing is that the Western Alliance as we know it today, might get further weakened, though not decimated. We should also not forget that the member countries have democratic elections, and governments change every few years, potentially causing more instability, which is generally not the case with Russia and China. There is of course, a significant price for freedom and democracy as we all know.

The worry is that a deliberate miscalculation, such as an invasion of Taiwan by China, could cause a limited global war. Russia will surely support China in that eventuality, and Japan will support Taiwan; and the U.S. will defend Taiwan, as required by a law passed by the U.S. Congress in the Seventies. China might impose a trade and shipping embargo in the South China Sea. All this is entirely possible.

While I am not offering any “consultancy” (!) towards averting the West – East Cold War from emanating again, it is only reasonable to expect that nations sit down and talk instead of war mongering. While Washington think tanks are active on scenario projection especially focused on the doomsday, peace overtures do not create enough attention. President Putin has been constantly seeking to reduce the tension by asking for a full presidential summit with President Trump – it is now absolutely clear that the U.S. sanctions on Russia have not had the desired effect, and Russia is making economic progress on its own with or without the U.S. and the Western countries. You cannot just sanction off every difference with other nations who just could not care less!

A lot of food for intense thought amongst concerned people like us, I guess!

Cheers, and have a great week ahead,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 June 2019

Democracy in Action


The biggest news this past week was the outcome of the Indian Elections (of course, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi get to dominate the useless news emanating from Washington D.C., for the most part). The coverage by the Western media was mostly indifferent, ranging from an objective matter-of-fact coverage by Associated Press to a hugely opinionated piece published by The New York Times. Such a wide range is to be expected, but I was taken aback by some of the vitriolic media coverage against the outcome, which is that the ruling BJP Party won a very comfortable majority on its own.

While many world leaders sync with Mr Modi (like Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe) on right-wing political philosophy and a strong-man macho image, it is rather strange that the Western media continues to cast aspersions on the Indian democratic process, as though the Western nations are all above board. I do not have a specific agenda or orientation when it comes to Indian politics and the choice of parties in the elections per se, but I have one thing in common with most people around the world: the trust in the fact that India continues to be the single largest democracy in the world with over 900M voters out of who some 600M people actually voted in the recent Parliament elections, in a mostly transparent process. No other country can match this democratic electoral feat – not China, not the U.S. It takes couple of months to complete the elections in India, but one single day of counting to publish the official results. Elections happening in Asia are no less sacrosanct or less trustworthy when compared to those happening in the U.S. or elsewhere. As we all know, the Presidential Elections of 2016 in which Donald Trump won is suspect due to Russian meddling in the U.S. elections (we do not firmly know that Russia meddled, we have to trust Robert Mueller!). So the moral high ground from which the U.S. can lecture the so-called Third World nations is questionable. It is not that the U.S. government is doing the lecturing, but the arm-chair opinion makers do so with not much involvement on ground realities, and they are mostly left-wing, liberal analysts.

Well, now let us come to the results of the Indian elections. It was a totally surprising result – very few psephologists projected an absolute majority for the BJP, though it was clear for the past few months that the party will form a government with close to 50% of the seats in the Parliament. The elitist, liberal view was that the BJP would have to pay for rising youth unemployment, agricultural farmer problems, the demonetisation fiasco, rising levels of hate crimes, and so on and so forth. The right-wing view was also very clear: the BJP will win handsomely, and form a government on its own (even without its allies).

We now know that the latter view prevailed. India overwhelmingly voted for the BJP, totally obliterating the Indian National Congress and the Nehru / Indira Gandhi / Rajiv Gandhi / Sonia Gandhi / Rahul Gandhi dynasty once and for all. It will not be possible for the Congress to resurrect itself, unless it kicks out Rahul Gandhi and conducts professional party elections, both of which will not happen. The Congress is disorganized and demoralized. The regional parties are equally shattered, except in South India.

So, Mr Modi is entering his second term as India’s Prime Minister, which may be a good thing from the perspective of continuity and continued execution of some of his better policies. He has to focus on generating youth employment, improving the infrastructure for manufacturing, attending to the huge issue of the agricultural economy and farmers’ problems, and in general, focusing heavily on the economy. The GDP growth rate has to accelerate well beyond 7.5% to generate big benefits to the Indian population. The BJP should not get cocky about its dominance and start making strategic mistakes like what the Congress did for over 5 decades of their inconsistent governance. History does teach lessons when it comes to politics and government!

Mr Modi also needs to reassure all Indian citizens that they are equal in his eyes and in the eyes of his party and government. He is the Prime Minister for all of India and not just for the Hindus. He cannot condone hate crimes and atrocities against the minorities. His past silence in the face of such crimes and atrocities has been construed as his acquiescence towards his Hindutva philosophy and the RSS ideology. He should come out firmly and embrace all people of India, irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. This is an absolute must for the continued social peace and integration of India, and this fact would surely be not lost on Mr Modi.

There are many WhatsApp messages coming in from various connected groups on the pros and cons, and analyzing the media coverage of the Indian elections. In my opinion, most of these are meaningless. The elections have been fought democratically and won democratically. Period. The matter ends there. The Indian electorate should now look forward to a vastly improved governance, an enhanced GDP growth rate, more job creation, increased manufacturing (leveraging the problems faced by China in its trade war with the U.S.), and peace.

I would like to wish Mr Modi all success in building a resurgent, dynamic India for all its people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th May 2019

So Trump is CLEAN


Finally, the Mueller Report is out.

Though the Attorney General’s Office has redacted a number of things in the report that was released to the Congress and the general public last Thursday, the conclusion of the report is crystal clear: Trump and his Presidential Campaign did not collude or coordinate with the Russian Government to try and influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, which Donald Trump won against Hillary Clinton.

Why are the Democrats then persisting with the Russia collusion theory? Is it not clear to one and all that Donald Trump is now “clean” with no taint of Collusion with Russia?

Apparently not totally clean.

The issues on the table are two-fold: one is the “obstruction of justice” charge on which Mueller did not make any specific conclusion and left it for Congress to take further action, as the evidence against Trump was not rock solid. The other is the unfortunate manner in which William Barr, the Attorney General, portrayed the report in his press conference held ahead of the release of the report to Congress – totally siding with the President’s position all along, which has been “no collusion, no obstruction”.

And, as Trump says often, the Democrats will never be satisfied on any aspect of the investigation which goes against their expectations.

I agree with President Trump. One has to be totally prepared for the outcome of any independent investigation, irrespective of the outcome as such. One cannot keep praising the independent nature of the investigation by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and then when his conclusions are unpalatable, raise new angles and new doubts and cause disruptions to the effective functioning of an already disrupted and damaged U.S. Government. I am saying this notwithstanding similar damages caused by the Republicans to the Obama administration. Mutual recriminations based on ideology and dislike of a specific individual (Obama by Republicans and Trump by Democrats) are not a civil way to resolve governmental or legislative problems and take the country forward.

I think Trump suffered during the past two years of his Presidency, because he did not know for sure what would happen to him under the Mueller investigation. He was unsure, disoriented, combative, and dysfunctional. That would explain the daily rants that he delivered over his Twitter feed. Some of his utterings could easily have been cited in a Court of Law, if he were a private individual, to his detriment. But then he is the President of the U.S., and a sitting President cannot be indicted. May be if he loses the next election, he can still be indicted as a private individual.

So, we should give him a break, and let him conclude his Presidential term without further legal disruptions not based on fact or strong proven evidence. I am not saying that the Democrats should not fight him on the election front – they have to do that by all means aggressively, given that Trump is going to leverage his “total exoneration” at the hands of the Special Counsel for his electoral campaign in a hugely significant manner. Democrats should stop wasting time now that the report is out, and focus on defeating Trump at the hustings.

To clarify matters, I am personally not a Trump supporter – I only feel that some of his policies are appropriate (not all) for the effective functioning of the government. Securing the borders, protecting the interests of the U.S. when it comes to trade and intellectual property, asking allies not to depend entirely on the U.S. for their security but to increase their own defence investments, seeking a rapprochement with sworn enemies like North Korea by proactively adopting unconventional means, and so on cannot be construed as the misguided actions of a deviant President. He has a right to his own contrarian views and policy directions, and he has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to those policies by showing the door to those on his team who do not subscribe to his vision. I cannot find anything wrong in his approach, though his hire and fire cabinet has caused discomfort at the Capitol and depicted a sense of dysfunctional government to the general public.

In a nutshell, the Congress should let President Trump govern and run the administration, while keeping a tight leash on his spending and new legislation which do not correspond with their sense of fairness or appropriateness. There is no point in causing constant hurdles simply because the Republicans did that to Obama, and without solid evidence of any wrong doing.

This is my view, and I am ready to be challenged. I wish to caution that appearance of collusion is not a credible legal charge, and appearance of obstruction of justice is also not a credible accusation. It looks like President Trump was bad and sometimes incorrigible in his tweets, he obviously lied in his tweets, he made bad policy decisions, he fired cabinet officials he did not like and more, but all that put together or analyzed separately do not provide adequate evidence of offences worthy of impeachment.

So everyone should get back to work in the U.S. Government and the U.S. Congress. That will also help the ROW (Rest of The World) take a breather from the daily fun show, perpetuated so well by stand up comedians. Not that we don’t like the same, but more of the same in the absence of more news or fake news will be absolutely boring. Right?

Have a wonderful week ahead, folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st April 2019

Theresa May’s Chaotic Nation


As every week passes, the U.K. is teetering towards the edge of a dangerous precipice. We are seeing this getting played out on TV almost every day, and wondering what is it that intelligent, educated folks in the most civilized and developed region of the world could not resolve to their mutual satisfaction.

As is to be expected, the U.K. thinks that it always has a “superior” edge compared to any other nation or bloc in the world, and it is not just “any other” country. It is special and used to rule a world when the Sun never set on the British Empire! Is it surprising to find out that the British Government is cocky as ever, and is now run by an indefatigable tough and unforgiving woman who just cannot be beaten in the political game?

However, the European Union (EU) does not subscribe to the above general view that the British are a superior country and could dictate terms even when they want to leave the EU. There has been a general hardening of views on this matter amongst the more poweful members of the EU such as Germany and France. The Brussels folks have been giving a tough time to Theresa May every time she had come calling – always seeking more concessions, to get out of the hole she has created for herself in the U.K. Parliament. To be fair, it is her own Conservative Party which has risen against her autocracy in the Brexit affair, and already defeated her in two Parliamentary votes. What is her credibility in the eyes of the EU politicians and bureaucrats, when she is repeatedly getting booted out by her own party men and women?

Now this has taken more than 32 months and the end is still not in sight. Apart from the Parliament, the Cabinet, businesses, banks and citizens of the U.K. are wondering where all this is going to end up. Businesses are already departing from the U.K. and economic growth is stalling. The British Pound is under pressure. No body knows with any level of certainty how things will work out, and this instability is affecting business decision-making and steering away investments by global corporations. There is no sense of direction or guidance from the government side. People have been left to fend for themselves ultimately, and this fiasco has led them to question the very basis and wisdom of Brexit.

The underlying fundamental issue for Britain in Brexit is all about sovereignty. British people do not wish to subjugate themselves under the rules perpetuated by the EU, they do not want European elections to impact Britain, they do not like the EU’s privacy laws and tax regulations, and what not. I do not yet understand, if that be the case, how come the mighty Britain was under EU rule for the past 47 years? Why did it subject itself to such a free-wheeling, liberal rule in the first place?

Obviously, it was because of the huge economic benefits. Apart from labour mobility, trade in goods was to the advantage of Britain. Even now, Britain’s share of the EU imports is over 44%. The British have always enjoyed trade advantages over the rest of the world and they have effectively leveraged it when dealing within the EU arrangement for the past nearly half century.

Of course, if now Brexit happens, the EU will not only collect the fine due as a result of the divorce from Britain, but also impose trade restrictions which would place Britain on par with other non-EU countries which will be disliked totally by British government. But then you cannot have the cake and eat it too, right?

The Irish backstop has caused huge disconnect in the British psyche. As far as the EU is concerned, the South and North parts of Ireland are separate and distinct. The Republic of Ireland stays within the EU as it is – so there may be EU Customs checks between the two Irelands, which cannot be done as per the Nineties agreement resolving the violent Irish dispute, whereby the border between the two parts of Ireland is supposed to be fully open (I may not be accurate on this topic).

So Brexit could challenge the way the British think about Ireland.

All told, it is a totally confusing and demoralizing time for the British people, who are already suffering from very high taxes and wreaking infrastructure. With the tough immigration stance taken by the government, it is likely that foreign university candidates would reduce their focus on the U.K. Large banks are already planning for a no Brexit deal kind of situation. There will be no new manufacturing investments coming to the U.K. anymore, as the goods produced cannot be exported to the EU without import taxes. It looks like impending gloom everywhere, but then the British are known to negotiate their way out of rather tight spots in the past.

So we can expect something before the new deadline of 22nd May imposed by the EU. Theresa May is likely to lose the third vote in the Parliament on Brexit, so the 12th April dateline will, most likely, be not achieved.

It is amazing to note that, in typical political fashion, it has taken nearly 3 years for the U.K. to get out of the EU in a bad way – what does this say about British skills in getting all that they want, while shortchanging every other partner?

The EU politicians are hedging their bets as well. My suspicion is that they need Britain to stay on in the EU, if only they could manage that outcome with increased sops – but then, not all the 27 EU members will play ball, and such a concessionary approach will also set a bad precedence for the EU in case some other EU nation wants to leave the Union.

Big, unraveling story with not so much of a happy ending for either side is to be played out in the coming days and weeks.

Enjoy the Brexit show.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th March 2019